David Mackay’s professional career began at the age of 15, when he was commissioned to illustrate a book on New Guinea orchids during school holidays. He continued to work at the National Botanic Gardens of Papua New Guinea as an illustrator in subsequent school holidays. Soon after moving back to Australia he took up a position at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney and worked there as illustrator for over 16 years. He has also worked as a guest artist at Kew Gardens in London, the University of California at Berkeley and the Linnean Herbarium in London. Whilst working at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney he completed a Bachelor of Science degree (botany major) at the University of Sydney, graduating with first class honours. Since leaving the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney in 1995 to move to Armidale, New South Wales, with his family, he has worked as a free-lance botanical and wildlife artist.
David’s work is described in various publications, including ‘Drawn from Life – the Development of Botanical Illustration of Australian Plants’ by Ed Wilson (1983), ‘Australia: 300 Years of Botanical Illustrations’ by Helen Hewsen (1999), ‘A Passion for Plants – Contemporary Botanical Masterworks’ by Shirley Sherwood (2000) and ‘Treasures of Botanical Art’ by Shirley Sherwood and Martyn Rix (2008). David has illustrated well over 150 scientific reference books and papers; more than 5000 of his drawings and paintings have been published. He has also authored over 30 publications on art and botany.
A combination of art and science is intrinsic to David’s work and, indeed, essential to its successful creation. A statement by the renaissance artist, Albrecht Durer, resonates strongly with David: ‘Be guided by nature’ he said. ‘Do not depart from it, thinking that you can do better yourself. You will be misguided, for truly art is hidden in nature and he who can draw it out possesses it’. David regards his work as a celebration of nature through which he can express and share his love of the natural world around us.
When he was the first person to ever draw the Wollemi Pine, shortly after it was discovered in 1994, he experienced some of the excitement that botanical artists must have felt during the 18th and 19th centuries as they painted exotic plants and animals never-before seen by Europeans. He is very aware, though, that today’s botanical artist is often more likely to be painting a species for the last time (before it goes extinct) rather than for the first time. This spurs him on to greater effort in depicting some of the finer, rarer and more beautiful aspects of our fragile, natural world.
His work is represented in public collections in Australia, England, USA and Papua New Guinea as well as in private collections around the world. He has painted numerous private commissions for collections in Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA, and public commissions for a number of institutions in Australia and Papua New Guinea.
He has taught classes in scientific illustration and botanical art at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney and continues to teach small-group workshops and one-on-one tuition in his studio just out of Armidale, New South Wales. David lives in the countryside with his wife, Caroline, and two daughters, Ellis and Hilary.